book review, Fiction, humour

Catch-22 – A Book Review

Book title – Catch-22

Author – Joseph Heller
Publisher – Vintage Books

No. Of pages – 570

The novel starts without much fanfare and I was unsure whether I would have the patience to read through all the 570 pages of it. But I pushed on and was I glad I did that.

The novel is a kaleidoscope of genres. If there is the silliest of humour, it is balanced by profound life lessons sprinkled throughout. The tragedy of a violent war is apparent throughout.

The scene changes skilfully from silly banter between fellow soldiers to a sudden struggle for survival.

The soldiers grapple for a semblance of sanity with death waiting around the corner. They try to live their lives, enjoying the few moments of illicit pleasure with gay abandon.

In all this mayhem of war, the author expertly captures the entire gamut of human frailties and characteristics, ranging from total avarice to total innocence.

The mentions of praise on the back cover of this bulky novel includes the following one, “Not only the best novel to come out of the war but the best novel to come out of anywhere in years”, by Nelson Algren. Though one may not agree wholeheartedly with this, but there is no doubt that every serious reader should have certainly read this one, once in his/her life.

Yatindra Tawde

 

Fiction

Neel Sayantani

First published on ArtoonsInn

The Queen Mother had made up her mind. Her daughter, the beautiful, almond eyed Sayantani, wouldn’t marry any mere mortal King. Though pleasantly plump, her eyes were like madhushala. Anyone who met her gaze would drown in their depths and become delirious with ecstasy. She had that effect. Yes, her daughter was fit only for the King of Celestials. Little did she know her daughter had other plans.

Princess Sayantani sat near the Palace pond contemplating on her next move. Her mother, the Queen, had been quite vocal about getting her married to the King of Celestials. Though she had nothing against him, in fact she found him truly handsome, she had lost her heart to Neel, the King of Sopara. And that too, without meeting him in person. She sat there, moving her fingers through the tranquil water, she smiled to herself as she reminisced on her long-distance romance.

 

 

“Your Majesty! All hail the Supreme Ruler”, cried the Resident Rishi, Rishi Chakrapani as he kneeled before his young King, King Neel.

King Neel who was staring into the distance, standing at the Jharokha, turned around to face his favourite Rishi, who doubled as a scientist.

“Guru Chakrapani. I have pleaded with you so many times, not to embarrassed me so, with this formal greeting every time you meet me. But you have decided to torture me. Afterall I am like your son. You can call me Neel. Anyway, what brings you here? I can see that you are all flushed and excited. Seems to me that you have made some fantastic discovery again.” King Neel smiles and gestured the Rishi to sit before him.

“You may be my son’s age, but O King, you are our Protector and Benefactor. And I am but, a common citizen, just fortunate enough to barge into your chambers without seeking permission.” Rishi Chakrapani had uttered this dialogue with the King many times before with slight variations. Then he continued.

“Yes, King Neel. I do have something exciting. You know how these small unmanned flying objects (UFO) are being used by our enemies to spy on us. Well, today we were able to capture one such UFO. And guess what we stumbled upon? It was by one of the far-off lands, the Kingdom of Nisargapatnam.”

“Kingdom of Nisargapatnam? Isn’t that the same Kingdom whose Princess is known to be an enchantress. What’s her name? Sayan…yes, Sayantani.” The King’s eyes sparkled as he said this.

“Yes, the same one, Your Highness. And finally, today you will be able to have a look at her image. Let’s go to the Karyashala.” The Rishi was brimming with excitement.

“What…but…how?”, the King was blabbering like a love-lorn teenager. And he was yet to see her image.

“The UFO was dismantled. It was decoded with great difficulty. But why am I telling you all this? Let’s rush to the karyashala.” The Rishi was insistent.

“Okay, at your service Sir”, and keeping his hand around the Rishi’s shoulder, he accompanied the Rishi to the Karyashala.

The Karyashala didn’t look like any other laboratory. Due to the extreme OCD of Rishi Chakrapani, different disciplines were divided into different sections. Thus there were different cabins for research on botany, metals, fauna, geology, etc. and each was labelled neatly. But the Rishi guided the King to the Technology section. Being the latest technological development on the bhumandala, intercepted UFO’s of various kingdoms, enemies as well as friends, occupied most of the space.

The junior Rishi standing near a workbench moved aside as soon as he sensed the presence of The King and Rishi Chakrapani. A silk cloth covered something on the bench.

Rishi Chakrapani proceeded to remove the cloth to reveal an ochre coloured UFO. The Rishi gestured the King to move forward. As soon as the King laid his eyes on the dismantled UFO, he exhaled in delight. For it displayed the image of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

“Princess Sayantani”

“Yes, Your Majesty. Princess Sayantani it is. But we have not yet been able to decode, how was this technological marvel achieved. Seems, the Rishis of Nisargapatnam are far ahead of us, in their technological prowess.”

The King was still enraptured by the beautiful image. It revealed a pleasantly plump countenance, half hidden behind waves of brown hair cascading over her face. The one eye which was visible, hinted a smile which flirted with the beholder. The King stole his gaze away from beautiful image in front of him with great difficulty.

“Rishi Chakrapani! Are you sure there is no hidden agenda in sharing this beautiful image? Why would any Kingdom want to share the image of their Princess with the world? And that too, of one so beautiful.” While the King was sounding a word of caution, his choked voice gave away his emotional state. An emotion called love.

“No, Your Majesty. We have checked the UFO for all known bugs. There is none. Though I cannot conjecture on their motives.” The Rishi was assuring his besotted King.

“Well, Rishi Chakrapani, it’s time for us to show the Rulers of Nisargapatnam, our own technological prowess, isn’t it”, smiled the King.

“Your wish, our command Sir. What do you want me to do?” The King just smiled in reply. Then he replied, “Rishi Chakrapani, I want you to…”

 

 

The Rishi at Nisargapatnam smiled. No one had been able to deduce the bug in their UFO. The listening device planted on one binding screw of the UFO had done it’s job discreetly. The slight inflections heard in King Neel’s voice had given away his besotted state. While his word of caution to Rishi Chakrapani proved that he was a responsible King who wouldn’t get swayed by emotions while ruling his Kingdom. She had found the perfect match for the Kingdom’s Princess, nee Rishi Sayantani. An invitation for the swayamvara was dispatched on that very day to the King of Sopara by the Rishi, nay, Princess Sayantani herself. An invitation alongwith the most important accessory. An accessory presented to a suitor when the decision had been made by a Princess on her would-be husband before the actual swayamvara.

 

Another invitation for the swayamvara reached the King of Celestials, courtesy the Queen of Nisargapatnam. The image of the Princess which accompanied the invitation made even the King of Celestials, to miss a heartbeat. He hadn’t seen a more beautiful girl. The Apsaras adorning his Palace would be jealous of their new queen.

 

 

The elite spy of the King of Celestials ambled towards his Palace. Whatever the nature of the news for the King of Celestials, the elite spy always remained cucumber cool. The clip-clop of his paduka announced his arrival inside the private chamber of the King of Celestials. But he loved to announced himself in his own style. He always took the name of that benevolent Celestial twice, the one who had first identified his spying capabilities.

“Welcome, O Banarada! What brings you to my humble abode?”, enquired the King of Celestials.

“O King of Celestials. My salutations to you. I have some cautionary news for you. The Noble King Neel of Sopara has also been invited to the swayamvara. He is currently the most loved King on the entire Bhumandala. And that’s not all. He is also the epitome of manliness. His chiselled features, the scar at the corner of his mouth enhances his masculinity. He is your most complete competitor, a likeness of  the Celestials themselves”, so said the spy of the Celestials.

“Bah! Celestial-like? What do you mean by chiselled features? Afterall, the King of Celestials is sitting before you. Don’t you worry. The beautiful Princess is sure to put the varmala around my neck.” boasted the King of Celestials.

“Na, na, na. Don’t be so confident, O King of Celestials. Don’t underestimate the power of a girl in love. She has already selected King Neel as the most eligible suitor. She won’t even notice your presence at the swayamvara, however handsome you may be.” And with that warning he excused himself from the presence of The King of Celestials.

The King of Celestials’s thoughts were now truly clouded with doubts. Is it really possible that any maiden would select someone else in his presence? No, it’s not possible. This had never occurred before. But…but…Banarada had never been proven wrong till now. No, I cannot allow this to happen. If she cannot be mine, she cannot be someone else’s. Even the King of Celestials fell prey to base human fallacies like jealousy sometimes.

 

 

The day of the Swayamvara dawned. The King of Celestials dressed in the newly conjured up silk attire making him look resplendent like the shining Sun. He didn’t want to leave any stone unturned to achieve his aim. He strode towards his flying chariot to make the journey to Bhumandala. Though he always preferred his Regal White Limousine, today the flying chariot was his choice.

He zoomed down towards the Swayamvara venue. As soon as the flying chariot neared ground level, he saw many other Suitors in their finest clothing and adorned in the choicest jewellery, rushing towards the same destination. Then he saw him.

King Neel. Standing ramrod erect in his speeding chariot, he appeared the epitome of masculine grace. His muscles taut, his sweating torso glistened n the morning sun. When the King of Celestials espied him hurtling across the landscape, he knew he was the one. He put his plan in place. His entire body vibrated inside the flying chariot, his face grimaced, and when things settled down, he was King Neel! And he zoomed towards the venue at faster speed.

 

 

The swayamvara hall was packed with invitees, the suitors as well as others invited to watch the celebrations and bless the couple. Finest silks fell from the walls and waved in the occasional gusts of wind. Beautiful traditional designs were made on the floor with nothing but differently coloured fresh flowers. The Suitors tried to appear cool but were certainly a bit stressed. And while everyone else was having a gala time, enjoying the delicacies on offer, an UFO had landed in the inner depths of the Palace.

Princess Sayantani had no difficulty in accessing the contents of the small UFO. As soon as she opened it, she was overcome by pleasant sensations. She knew what it was and what she was supposed to do. Soon she had used up every bit of the special contents and was ready for the swayamvara.

 

 

It was time for the event for which everyone had congregated. The Swayamvara. The Suitors were all standing near the chairs allotted to them. Princess Sayantani strode confidently through the hall, her eyes searching for only one. Her eyes met with the eyes of all Suitors and then moved on.

Suddenly her eyes fell upon the one to whom she had lost her heart. The rest of the hall was now a blur. Her pace quickened. As did her heartbeat. But as she approached him, she felt something amiss. Her steps faltered but she pulled herself ahead. Then she saw him. Again. Just a few yards ahead of King Neel. Another King Neel? An imposter? But…but how was this possible? Still she continued to walk. As she walked further, her confidence returned as she felt the attraction irresistible.

She crossed the smiling, first King Neel, reached the second one, and in one swift, graceful movement she had placed the varmala around him. Not a nerve twitched on the face of the first King Neel. The hall was stunned. Why were there two King Neels’? And who among them was the imposter? The one who had been ignored or the one who now stood beside the Princess. The Princess appeared sure of her choice.

A gasp went around the hall, as the first King Neel strode out of the hall in quick strides, perhaps wanting to avoid the gaze of the entire hall, which he felt was only pitying him.

 

The wedding between the made for each other couple was celebrated for the next 2 days by the entire Kingdom of Nisargapatnam and their guests while the Queen sulked. A wedding helped on its way in no small measure by the exchange of pheromones hitching a ride on the UFO’s and the technological expertise of two ancient Indian Kingdoms.

 

 

The King of Celestials is in a sullen mood. But he gloats. He has made all arrangements to make hell out of a married couple’s life. A couple whose love triumphed over all his desperate shenanigans. And someone must repent for that, isn’t it?

 

 

Glossary :

Neel Sayantani – influenced by the story of Nal-Damayanti, I hope not to have made a mess out of it

Madhushala – a place for getting drunk

Sopara – a Kingdom in ancient India

Nisargapatnam – another Kingdom in ancient India?

Rishi – a learned elder (scientist?) in ancient india

Jharokha – a window

Small UFO – means a drone for this story

Karyashala – a laboratory

OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Bhumandala – Earth

Apsaras – celestial nymphets

Paduka – footwear

Varmala – a flower garland

Fiction, humour

The Master Piledriver

First posted at ArtoonsInn. The writing prompt had five distinct words which had to be incorporated into a story which I attempted…

Abhay  cautioned his friend, “Shhh, Rakesh…here comes The Master. Stand up, bow and then kneel. Remember, you have to stay on your knees for the entire session.”

“I know, I know. You don’t have to remind me. Kneeling on my knees for so long would be torturous. But I now ready to do anything for curing my piles. I am just too wabbit. I can most certainly exchange a few hours of pain in my knees with the pain in my…”, Rakesh whispered.

“Shhh…no bad words please. The Master is capable of curing all ailments of his true disciples. One can feel the Aura as soon as he makes an entry into the room. Don’t you feel it?”, Abhay said.

“Yes, yes. Whatever you say. But what is the quid pro quo?”, asked Rakesh.

“Now what is that, Rakesh. You do have a penchant for talking in riddles. Always flaunting your elite upbringing  aren’t you?”, Abhay asked sarcastically.

“OK, let me put it bluntly for you my friend. What is The Master expecting in return for curing me? He must want or seek something,  isn’t it? I am surprised he doesn’t take any donations from his disciples”, Rakesh wondered loudly.

“The Master is the most enlightened being in this entire Firmament. This is his lila. This world is his stage and we are the players. Be patient.”, Abhay admonished his friend.

“Means? Like a drama? What are we supposed to do? I can’t act, damn it. Let’s get out of here, Abhay. Enough of spirituality for me. I will again meet the Doctor. A different one perhaps but not this, please”, uttered a panicky Rakesh.

“I said, be patient. Your impatience is now getting on my nerves. You will not be required to act in a drama. No one knows what The Master will come up with. Let’s wait and watch”, Abhay comforted his friend.

“Now what are these people bringing? What are those shiny things? Oh my God. Swords! Is it allowed?”, asked a perspiring Rakesh.

“Umm…seems to be so. Oh no, I think these are machetes”, Abhay enlightened.

Whatever man. They look too sharp. What will The Master make us do now? Are we supposed to duel with each other? Don’t swing too hard at me Abhay, someone might get hurt”, a visibly concerned Rakesh blurted.

“You and your imagination. I would never have brought you here but you were insistent. Now please keep your nerves and sit tight”, Abhay admonished his friend.

“I am sitting tight since long. Oh, it’s pains so much, I have to sit tight. And why are these attendants keeping the machetes with the edge up, on the floor? What are they going to do now? And why doesn’t The Master speak? Is he on Maun Vrat?”, Rakesh rattled on.

“Shh…look, The Master has opened his eyes. That means he is ready to speak. Please concentrate now. Look at that miracle, his attendants are walking on the matchete edge. Wow!”, a truly Mesmerized Abhay spoke to himself.

“Look, The Master is watching everyone. Be prepared, he will ask anyone randomly. You might be the lucky one”, Abhay continued.

“Yes, vatsa. What ails you? Whatever it is, please share your troubles with me. Trust me. And you won’t be disappointed”, so spake The Master finally.

“Pssst…Rakesh, it’s you he is asking.  Oh, you are so blessed.”

“Master, I suffer from piles. And it pains; I am not able to sit for long.” Rakesh was blunt and to the point.

“Come my friend. Come near me. While coming, please do walk on this pathway. Just like you saw my attendants do. Assure you that you will forget your piles suffering in a jiffy”, said The Master with a beatific smile.

“Whaat? What do you want me to do? This is impossible. Abhay! You be happy with this nonsense. I am not going to walk on blades to cure my piles. I am going…”, thundered a flabbergasted Rakesh.

“But…but, Rakesh. Please wait.  Don’t insult The Master thus. Wait…I said wait”, cried Abhay.

 

Fiction, horror

The Rag doll

First shared on #ArtoonsInn

Atmaram Nana was alone at home. Having lost his wife, Supriya, two years back, he stayed with his son’s family at their house in the town of Kankavli, in the Kokan area of Maharashtra.

Atmaram was very proud that he had been able to buy this house from the original owners, the Nene’s when he was quite young. His son Raghuram, Raghuram’s wife, Revati and their 6-year-old son, Rahul had gone to Mumbai to attend the wedding of one of their relatives from Revati’s side.

Atmaram Nana was quite sprightly even at the age of 72. He had kept himself in good health by gardening every day, in their small little garden, his darling cat, Mani, following him everywhere.

Today, Atmaram was feeling quite lonely. On top of that, he had not been able to sleep properly. The creaking sounds from the attic had been quite loud during the night and Atmaram blamed it on the withering timber.

He decided to investigate. Anything to pass the time. As he made his way up, he put on a cloth mask on his nose, to protect himself from the dust and cobwebs.

On reaching the top, he crinkled his eyes to see better in the darkness. Then he reached for the light switch and put on the light.

Like most of the households in the town, the attic was used as a storage place for drums of rice and wheat. And where there is food, rats are bound to follow. This is where Mani made herself useful.

Crouching to avoid hitting his head against the low ceiling, Atmaram made his way across the attic, his footsteps causing swirls of dust to rise and then settle back on the attic floor. Most of the floor was occupied by various household items like a broken chair, Rahul’s childhood schoolbag, his broken toys, old utensils and the like, which ideally should have been disposed of to some scrap dealer.

Suddenly Mani screamed, “Meowww…” and something swung down from the ceiling, hit Atmaram in the face, making him lose his balance and fall. Fortunately, not much harm was done except for soiling of his clothes.

Looking up to see what had hit him in his face, he saw a rag doll, it’s head held to its body by a few threads, hanging upside down from the ceiling. Perhaps belonging to Rahul he thought; though he could not remember anyone gifting or buying a doll for Rahul. Cursing Raghuram for placing the doll on the ceiling, he espied a tin trunk in the corner where he had fallen.

Like his cat, Atmaram was overcome with curiosity. What would this trunk carry? What memories will it hold? And he had time to kill.

He saw a lock on the trunk. His memory scanned through the recesses of his mind, but couldn’t remember whether he had the key for it or not. So he took the next available option, reached for the spade lying in another corner of the attic and hammered on the lock. In a few strokes, it gave way.

All this while, Mani was doing a big din with her meowing, Atmaram couldn’t fathom why.

As he prised open the trunk, Mani fell silent. In fact, she jumped inside the trunk and started her sniffing routine. Atmaram gently picked her up and put her down outside.

Inside was his old camera! And some photo albums. For the next few minutes, he got lost in his past, for the photo albums held many memories, especially of his wife, Supriya and their child, Raghuram.

Raghuram and his family were back from Mumbai the next day, a Sunday morning. Once they had settled down Atmaram placed the camera on the table. Rahul was sitting on his lap.“Wow! Nana, that’s your favourite camera. Where was it all these days?” exclaimed Raghuram with surprise.

Like a person who has been gifted a new smartphone when he least expected it, Atmaram’s eyes were twinkling.

“You know, it still has a film in it, I think it must be half used. Oh, how I loved this camera. It is a Rolleiflex! It had been gifted to me by my uncle, Sakharam kaka. I understand he bought it in Mumbai….no, Bombay, in those olden days” the words rolled off Atmaram’s tongue in his excitement.

Raghuram was happy to see his father so happy. He had not seen him so enthusiastic and talkative for a long time.

“But why did you suddenly stop using this camera? I faintly remember you using it when I was but a child”

“I don’t know. Actually, I don’t remember it. Why did I stop using?”Atmaram tried to recall but in vain. All the while his fingers were busy in re-familiarising themselves with the various buttons and knobs of the camera.

As he pressed a knob, the lens side slid open. With shivering fingers, Atmaram prised open the side and the lens protruded out, sliding on the bed so formed. This was the zoom-in zoom-out feature of the camera.

With child-like excitement, he took the camera near his face to look into the viewfinder. He pointed the camera at Raghuram, who was busy giving a false smile. The viewfinder was a little yellowed now but he saw something hanging from the ceiling in the background, where Raghuram was standing.

All this while, Mani was making a cacophony, looking at Nana.

But when he put aside the camera to see what it was behind Raghuram…there was nothing. Again he tried to click his son’s photo but the button would not budge. And the apparition remained in the frame, though he could not pinpoint what it was. Perhaps a spec of dust?

“I think that’s why I stopped using the camera. It’s not working. And who will repair it in a small town like Kankavli?”

“No worries Nana. So what if it’s not working now. We are the proud owners of an antique camera like Rolleiflex. And let’s develop the film inside. At least we will be able to re-live some old memories”, so saying Raghuram took the camera from his father to retrieve the film.

However, he was not able to do so. “Call that photographer, Aniket. He should be able to retrieve” advised Atmaram.

“I will do one thing. I will take the camera tomorrow while going to the office and drop it off with Aniket. In evening, I will get it home with the developed film”.

The next day Raghuram came home in the evening with the camera and the developed prints.As soon a Raghuram entered, Mani became agitated. The hair on its body stood on end; she arched her back and bounded off, out of the house.

But Raghuram hardly registered it, he was eager to show the photos to his father. In his haste to come home, he had not yet seen the prints and wanted to observe his father’s reactions to the old photos, which had not yet been seen by anyone.

There were total of 10 photos. Nana was so happy to see his young wife, Supriya smiling into the camera. In some, she was alone, while in some she was carrying the child, Raghuram.Those were the days! Reminisced Nana fondly. Raghuram was watching the varied emotions fleeting across Nana’s face.

The last few photos were from this very house. It seemed to be someone’s birthday.Then Nana remembered. It was Raghuram’s 5th or 6th birthday. It was the first birthday to be celebrated in this house.

Nana remembered; he had bought the house from the Nene’s. He had been lucky. The Nene’s had sold it off to him in haste and at less than the market rate of that time, and Nana had been so happy about this unexpected windfall. Before shifting to Kankavli, Nana had been staying in the interiors of Malvan and had made enough money from his fisheries business.

After selling it off to him, the Nene’s had left Kankavli for good.The eighth, ninth and the last photo caught Nana’s attention. For standing behind a posing Raghuram, was a girl who appeared to be slightly older than the child Raghuram.Nana did not recall any such girl visiting their house. But it could be the failing memory of an old man. She must have been someone from their neighbourhood.

However, Raghuram who had been silently watching the photos and his father’s reactions to them did a double take on seeing the girl.

He plucked out the photos from his old man’s hands and stared intently.“I remember this girl Nana. She used to come to my room very often to play with me. And I remember, she had this same rag doll, with its head hanging by some threads” smiled Raghuram, as he pointed out the rag doll in the photograph.

Suddenly Nana’s throat felt parched. “Revati, bring me some water”, he felt goosebumps on his hands, as he suddenly remembered the rag doll which had swung from the ceiling in the attic and hit him on his face.

With shivering hands, he reached for the box of medicines lying nearby and took out his hypertension medication. He gulped the tablet with the water offered by Revati.

“But Raghuram. I never saw any such girl entering our house, at least not when I was at home” exclaimed a puzzled Nana.

“Yes, Aai also said the same thing to me. In fact, she used to say that I talk to myself like a madman. She felt that I was play acting. But here is that girl!”

For some moments both, father and son stared at each other, transfixed by what Raghuram had just said.

Then Nana grabbed Raghuram’s hand, “Take me to the attic. I want to show you something”.

Raghuram supported his father, as both of them went towards the attic.“Revati, please prepare for dinner. We are coming back in a few minutes”

Reaching the top, Raghuram put on the lights. Both of them entered inside.

“That day, I entered the attic and was trying to see what all is kept here since I had come up after many months. And, while walking in this very corner, see there…”, and pointed upwards towards the ceiling.

It was empty!

Raghuram looked at his father with a puzzled look.“But…but, it was here only. Where is it gone?” Nana got very agitated.“What, Nana? What did you see?” Raghuram was now losing his patience with his old man.

“Raghuram I saw the same rag doll! The same one with its head hanging by a few threads. But where is it now? I did not remove it. Has it fallen somewhere”, so saying Nana started searching on the dust-laden floor? But it was nowhere to be seen.

“Leave it, Nana. Why search for a useless doll. I am hungry. Let’s go for dinner”

“Ok, let’s go. But it’s surprising, isn’t it? Perhaps Mani….Mani carried it away?” Nana was still puzzled by the mysterious disappearance.

After putting off the attic light and locking it, both of them descended below.

As they passed a room, they heard Rahul talking to someone. “I have no one to play. Will you come often? Shall we play hide and seek?”

Eager to see whom Rahul was talking to, Raghuram entered the room, followed by his father.

“Won’t you introduce us to your new friend, Rahul. Who are you playing with?” asked Raghuram.

“Later Baba. She is hiding now”.

Smiling at Rahul, amused with his play-acting, both turned to leave; there in the corner where Rahul was staring, was the same rag doll…with its head attached to its body by a few threads!

Both father and son stood dumbstruck as they saw Mani in the window, hissing in the same direction, where the doll lay!Oh! What entity had the camera let loose?

The Nene’s; or rather the wife, now stay in far-off Kolhapur. The mother still feels extreme remorse at sacrificing her daughter in her mad quest for a son, which remained unfulfilled.

Her husband, Shripatrao Nene had a horrific accident during their journey from Kankavli to Kolhapur when the bus in which they were travelling passed very near to some trees, and one of the branches got caught in the window in front of him, causing a whiplash action decapitating his head, but held from falling off, by a few muscles. Like a rag doll!

Fiction, Mystery

A court case… fiction

First shared on #ArtoonsInn

It was time. Soon the courtroom clerk would come to me, open my arms with a creak, which has developed over a period of time, and withdraw the required documents from my belly.

From the time, many years back, when I was brought here fresh from the Godrej factory, I have hardly moved from the corner. But this corner offers me a vantage point and an uninterrupted view of the entire shenanigans which go on, inside this spacious though dark room, in the name of justice. So what if my legs are wobbly over a period of time.

Slowly people started filing in. The case had been in the news once again since the last few months, and not without reason.

Mr. Sinha, the state prosecutor started, “Mr. Prakhar Singh stands accused of murdering his wife, the late Mrs. Sheeladevi, 17 years back and Mr. Salil Singh, his son is the sole witness to the vile murder.”

“I would now like to call, Mr. Salil Singh to the witness box.”, Mr. Sinha continued.

The judge, Mr. Harbhajan Singh granted him permission.

“Mr. Salil Singh, you have accused your biological father of the grimmest crime. What do you have to say?”, queried the state prosecutor.

I could see, all eyes in the courtroom following the young Mr. Salil, as he stared at his father for a long time.

Then turning towards the judge, he said, “Your honour, my father is a murderer. He murdered my mother as she was planning to leave him, tired of his continuous beatings. She had made all arrangements, but…”

“Objection, Your Honour.”, Mr. Shivdasani, the defence lawyer interrupted. Though small in stature, his hawk-like features and the baritone granted gravitas to his personality. Even the Judge was in awe of this cunning man.

“This young man is accusing my client without any proof. He has already grabbed the ancestral property from his father with the help of some unscrupulous relatives, but it is not enough. He now wants to totally destroy my clients name, nay, finish him off totally. if you grant permission, I would like to cross examine him”

“Objection granted, please proceed.”, the Judge acquiesced.

“Mr. Salil, you accuse your father of the most heinious crime, the murder of your mother, Mrs. Sheeladevi who disappeared 17 years back. Did you not yourself say that she was planning to leave him, due to the alleged continuous beatings by your father?”, said the defence lawyer, as he moved towards the witness box.

“Mr. Salil, may I ask you your age.”

“I am 20 years old, Sir.”, replied Salil.

“Please note, Sir”, Mr. Shivdasani addressed the judge.

“20 years old. Which means, you were just 3 years old when this occurred. Mr. Sheeladevi abandoned you, her only child, due to some alleged beatings which were never proved. For all you know, she must be in the US of A, enjoying herself, married to some American. And your father took care of you and raised you till you connived with your mother’s brother to grab the property and drove out your father.”

A gasp went round the court, as people started talking amongst themselves. Even I was confused; who was speaking the truth and who was lying. But Mr. Salil himself looked at peace with himself.

“Sir, I am not accusing my father now, after all these years. When I was a three year old boy I had said, ‘Baba thho…thho maa’, but I couldn’t do anything else at that time…”

As Salil said this, I was transported to the past, in these very premises, when a small boy was crying and saying, “Thho…thho, Baba thho…thho maa’, but nothing could be proved.

Mrs. Sheeladevi’s disappearence was a much talked about subject that time. Her brother, Ramniranjan, had accused Mr. Prakhar Singh of killing his sister. His accusations were based on the complaints of regular beatings from his sister and of course, the accusation by Salil.

Prakhar Singh maintained that she had simply left the house and disappeared.

Her empty purse had been found in the garbage bin outside their house, empty. Their car had been found in the city airport parking lot. But after a long trial, with Mrs. Sheeladevi still missing, the case went unsolved and was closed due to lack of evidence.

Suddenly a hand entered my belly and I was brought to the present.

“When I was a three year old boy, I had cried ‘Baba shot maa’ but I couldn’t do anything else. But there is a new development due to which I am now determined to see the harshest punishment for this man, I regret he is my biological father”, Salil said, his eyes watering up.

“Cut out the emotional blackmail, Mr. Salil. Whatever it is, place the facts before the court, don’t waste everyone’s time.”, the defence lawyer exclaimed.

“6 months back, I decided to renovate the ancestral home. After finishing the interiors, I started the re-construction of the swimming pool. It was emptied out, the tiling was removed, the digging started and…and…”, and Salil went silent.

“My Lord, the accuser is now certainly wasting our precious time. Mr. Salil, why are you bent on taking us through this convoluted construction process. Please come to the point”, Mr. Shivdasani thundered.

“And I found human remains.” A hush descended on the room. Suddenly all went quiet. I could see sweat running down the temples of Mr. Prakhar.

“I called my uncle and told him, ‘Mama, I think I might have found my mom.’

A flustered defence lawyer was combative, “Isn’t it your ancestral property? Isn’t your clan one of the martial clans of India? The human remains could have been any of the past enemies of your clan. We are not here to try your long dead ancestors, are we?”

“Objection, your honour.” Now it was the turn of the State Prosecutor.

“My learned friend is not letting my client speak. He is interrupting at an important juncture.” Mr. Sinha, who had been an observer for quite a while, was now suddenly active.

“I would now like to cross examine Dr. Rebello.”

I couldn’t understand the role of a Doctor or his significance to the case at hand. All the documents held in my belly did not add anything of value to my thinking. Neither my presence in the court for such a huge period of time has given me any inkling of how a lawyer’s mind works.

So here I was, just an observer to the proceedings. Just like so many others who were not so handicapped.

Dr. Rebello, though an old person with shaking hands, seemed jovial. When prompted for his name, he replied, “The name is Rebello, Julio Rebello”. Perhaps a fan of Bond, James Bond.

“And what is your area of expertise, Doctor?”, asked the state prosecutor.

“A Forensic Pathologist and Anthropologist. A Forensic Pathologist is one who studies the dead and the reasons they die. While a Forensic Anthropologist is one who works with skeletons and decomposed human remains and analyses the remains to get information about the victim and the cause death…”, the Doctor would have gone on and on, but was rudely interrupted by Mr. Shivdasani.

“I object, your honour. With all due respect, the honourable state prosecutor is doing everything to delay proceedings by bringing in witnesses who ramble on without reaching any conclusion”, he thundered.

“Objection overruled!”, for once the Judge overcame his admiration of the defence lawyer and asked the public prosecutor to continue.

“Doctor, please stick to the questions being asked and please reply to the point. We have spent enough time in this profession and know the difference between a Forensic Pathologist and an Anthropologist. So what do you have to say about the skeleton found in the property of Mr. Salil and which was brought to you by the Police?”, asked the State Prosecutor.

This time the Doctor did not waste any time and answered, “The skeleton was of a female who died in her young age, about 25-30 years old, she had already given birth before she died, she had been shot through her head and all this had occurred between 15-20 years back.” Everyone sat back as they processed this information given at breakneck speed.

“Whoa, whoa, Doctor you went too fast this time. I agree all these details can be determined by your fraternity but that she had already given birth before her death…I mean, do you take us to be fools”, who else, Mr. Shivdasani questioned.

His booming baritone did not have any effect on the Doctor who replied with a straight face, “You have put me in a quandary. If I agree with you, I will be put in jail for contempt of court, but if I disagree, I would be committing perjury.”

The court erupted in laughter at this quip from the Doctor. “Order, Order!”, I saw the judge indulge in his favourite dialogue and saw him hammering the gavel. Oh, how I envy Mr. Gavel, who is much more actively involved in the court proceedings!

The good Doctor then proceeded to enlighten, “When a woman gives birth, her pelvis is dilated. And this is how I deduced that the skeleton was of a woman who had given birth before she had been murdered.”

“Ok, this is all very well, but how does this prove that the skeleton was of Mrs. Sheeladevi? The court accepts nothing but proof to convict someone”, the defence lawyer was still defiant. For once, I agreed with the cunning lawyer.

“Yes, you are right. I cannot say whether it was the skeleton of Mrs. Sheeladevi or not”, the Doctor went silent, for once.

“Don’t worry, Sir. My next witness is the Forensic scientist, Dr. Paneerselvam.” The State Prosecutor was now in full flow.

I was now totally immersed in this case.

“Dr. Paneerselvam! What have you deduced on this case”, the prosecutor asked.

“Sir, I extracted the DNA from the tooth of the skeleton. I processed it and I took a comparative DNA sample from Mr. Salil here. There was a hundred percent match.”

“That’s it, My Lord. That conclusively proves that the accused, Mr. Prakhar Singh is guilty of murdering his wife, the mother of his son. Her only crime was to think of leaving him, of escaping his daily beatings and think of building a new life for herself. He deserves the strictest punishment, he should be hanged until death.” So saying, the State Prosecutor occupied his seat.

Happy that now justice will be served, I was keenly observing the judge, when that man, Mr. Shivdasani thundered, “Ok, it seems it is certainly proved that Mrs. Sheeladevi was murdered, but it doesn’t at all prove that my client, Mr. Prakhar did it. Where is the proof and the court accepts only proof before convicting any accused.”

Considering Mr. Shivdasani’s reputation, I was ready for this legal battle to drag on for days, when, “It’s alright, Mr. Shivdasani. You have fought well but I am now tired.”

Trying to understand who was talking, I saw Mr. Prakhar Singh getting up.

“Please come into the box, Mr. Prakhar.”

“Yes, it is true that I killed her. Yes, I did it in a fit of rage. I loved her, I wanted to possess her but she…she wanted to leave. And she never told me. When I came to know, I confronted her but she was adamant. I lost my cool, I shot her in front of Salil…I am sorry, Salil.”

That day, I was convinced, ‘Sins can be buried away but can never be forgotten’.

***

Authors note –

  1. Inspired from real incident.
  2. No laws referred
  3. Court functioning mostly sourced from Bollywood movies.
  4. Few legal terms Googled.
  5. Doctor’s joke googled.
  6. Written from the point of view of a cupboard, always seen in the background in any filmy court
Fiction, Mystery, Thriller

The feast

First published on #ArtoonsInn

The phone rang shrilly disturbing the Saturday afternoon siesta of Mr. and Mrs. Braganza. The Mrs. answered.

“Hello…oh hi, Maria. How are you?…Oh, a feast. So nice of you…yes, yes, we will certainly come tomorrow.”

“Who was it, Julia?”, asked Tony or Mr. Braganza.

“Mrs. Robinson has planned a feast tomorrow noon. She has invited us.”

“Sure. We will go”, Tony stretched as he yawned. Then added, “But Mr. Robinson is not seen since yesterday. Is he there tomorrow?”

“I don’t know. Even I was wondering”, replied Julia.

“Who else has she invited? If it’s a feast, there would be more invitees.”

“Yes, there would be, of course. But I didn’t ask.”

Then with a twinkle in her eyes, added “I hope she treats us to her pork preparation…or Kheema. Yummy”.

“Stop it, will you. You are making me hungry already.”, Tony admonished his wife playfully.

“Evening, I am going to Seb’s home. Will be back by 9.00-9.30.”

“You and Sebastian. Two sides of the same coin. A coin which guzzles alcohol. Can’t you control your urges on atleast one Saturday?”, and then added, “Spend atleast one Saturday evening with me, Mr. Braganza. See how I keep you entertained.”

Tony pushed her away. Nothing ever came between him, Seb and the Saturday evening bottle.

Most Saturday’s, once Tony left for Seb’s home, Julia rushed to her rendevous with her paramour. She tried to reach him but his phone was switched off.

—-

Mrs. Robinson woke up early on Sunday. A few select family friends were invited for lunch and she had no help in arranging everything. She desired no help.

Bad luck, Rem, her husband, was going to miss this feast.

The previous evening she had arranged the finest wine from the neighborhood brewery. The friends loved the Kheema (mincemeat) and she was not going to disappoint them.

She decided to have her bath later, once she had prepared the mutton dishes. As she took out the meat from the deep freezer, she remembered her husband’s love for her cooking, the way he slurped his fingers like a child. The image brought a smile to her face. So sad, he was going to miss this feast.

She stripped the meat from the bones, her hands shaking with the effort. Most of the meat went into the grinder which strained with the effort. But Julia loved her pieces and some were saved for her.

Mixing the masalas, she cooked up a delicious menu in a trance. In two hours she was done, sweating profusely.

Time for the bath. She indulged herself in the bathtub, scrubbing her hands vigorously with the scrubber and soap. She didn’t want herself to smell of meat in front of her guests.

Finally, with dollops of makeup, she was ready to face her guests.

The doorbell rang. It was the Fernandes’ couple. The customary air kisses were exchanged.

The Pinto’s were the next to arrive followed by the Braganza’s.

Then Maria, aka Mrs. Robinson, started her welcome speech.

“Welcome everyone. First of all I thank you, for keeping everything aside and honouring me with your presence…”

Julia intervened, “Oh, Maria, no one in their right senses would miss your culinary delights. Don’t worry, we are here for our selfish interests”, and the house dissolved into a bout of boisterous laughter.

“Hey, but we are certainly missing that scoundrel, Rem. Where has he gone into hiding”, asked Mr. Pinto.

“Oh, did I not tell you. He had to go to Mumbai for some urgent office work on Friday morning. I spoke to him yesterday, he should be back tomorrow evening. But don’t worry about him, he asked me to go ahead with this feast. He said, he would be there with us in spirit.” Then Maria added, a smile lining her eyes, “You know, of the liquid kind”.

“Naughty boy. Let me call him.” Charles Fernandez fished out his phone.

“Switched off. I tell you Maria, he is upto no good. Are you sure he is on official duty? Smells more like an affair, doesn’t it Tony?”

Tony guffawed loudly as he jokingly reprimanded Charles, “Charlie boy. Do you want to be thrown out of the house? Accusing the owner of the house of dirty deeds, you scoundrel. Say sorry to the high command.”

“Oh, sorry Mrs. Robinson. Not a word out of me now, no bad mouthing Rem. Now I will do that only after partaking the feast which you have conjured up for us.”, and so the banter continued till it was lunch time.

At the lunch table, the couples sat near each other. An empty wine glass, placed near the plates, gave an inkling of the spirit to follow a sumptuous meal. The aroma of the Kheema was already wafting from the kitchen, permeating their senses.

“Umm, Maria…my stomach is full, just the aroma is enough”, said Julia.

“Oh, no, no. That will certainly not do, my friend. All this effort is for you”, smiled Maria.

“But why are you standing, Maria. Join us.”

“I always fast on a Sunday. Don’t worry about me. I would be satiated once you have had your fill”, Maria answered.

“Not fair. We forgot. You should not have kept the Feast on a Sunday.”

But soon, everyone was feasting on the sumptuous Kheema spread. Oh, how Maria loved those slurping sounds made by her guests.

“Move over Tony. I am going to feed my friend Julia, some of the best mutton pieces.”

And she just pushed Tony out of his seat. Everyone laughed as Maria occupied the neighbouring chair and started feeding Julia.

Everyone cheered as one mutton piece disappeared followed by the next.

Suddenly Maria’s feeding took in a violent frenzy. She was now force feeding Julia.

“Eat…eat him. Eat Rem. Don’t you like it. I am serving your lover to you on a platter. Isn’t he tasty enough?”, she screamed as the guests started vomiting one after the other.

Fiction

A story on Christmas eve

First shared on #ArtoonsInn

A most selfish girl


In the town of Costashire, lived little Rimona with her parents Richard and Mona.
Richard, the Duke and the Duchess loved their little Rimona and spoilt her silly with innumerable presents.
All the attention went to little Rimona’s head and she turned into a most selfish child.
She thought everything belonged to her.


Every Christmas she wished for the most exotic presents and every Christmas Santa was generous enough to grant her every wish. But he decided that something had to be done about her selfishness.


But how?


This year Rimona wanted to meet Santa himself as her Christmas gift. Santa informed Rimona’s father that he would meet her but she would have to come to the north pole by his reindeer pulled sleigh.


The happy day arrived. Rimona dressed in a flowery lily white dress and sat in the sleigh.
Rimona took in the sights and sounds of the journey with wonder in her eyes.


She saw a boy happily working on a bench with his carpenter father. The tools were old and he had to work hard to shape the wood.


She saw a girl selling flowers in the market, her clothes were torn and a smile adorned her beautiful face.


She saw twins outside a bakery, looking longingly at the decorated cakes inside. They were surely hungry but they walked away.


As she neared the pole, she saw a child freezing in the cold, as it’s mother held it to her bosom.


At the end of the journey, Rimona met Santa happily and asked for her goodies.


On her return journey she had made new friends, for they had met a child Santa.


“Papa, giving gave me more joy than receiving. Thank you for my greatest gift.”, and she planted a kiss on her happy parents cheeks.


Fiction, humour

Rattled

First posted on #ArtoonsInn…

The clock struck twelve. The repeated hammering of the ancient gong dislogded timid Tony from his hiding place in the clock and in his hurry, he fell right into the path of Mrs. Batliwala. She screamed in terror, let go of the bone china bowl of hot soup and gave out a blood curdling scream. 

The shrill scream reverberated in Tony’s ears and he tried to scamper away and found the nearest dark recess to hide himself. Unfortunately it turned out to be the ample pyjamas of old Mr. Batliwala who jumped up from the rocking chair in fright. The beer glass toppled over, Mr. Batliwala pushed against the wooden table and lost his balance. As he fell backwards, Tony struggled to break free of the pyjamas and just managed to avoid getting squashed under the ample bottom of Mr. Batliwala.

Timid Tony rushed to his hideout, the drainage pipe just outside the verandah of the Batliwala’s. This part of the neighborhood was the haunt of Dirty Purry, the evil feline. But the noon wasn’t the bread earning hour of Dirty Purry, hence Tony was safe for now. Safe with his family, whom he had settled inside.

“What did you get for lunch, you good for nothing fellow?”, screamed a shrewish Mrs. Tony.

“I…I…I…” squeaked poor Tony.

“What I…I…I… you are just not cut out for the man race. My parents ruined my life by marrying me off to a nincompoop like you. And me…how the hell did I fall for your sqeaky clean image?” She continued to stare at her husband scornfully.

“Learn something from your brother, Rancid Ronny. Such a foul smelling fellow living in the old neighborhood of the gutters. But see, he hasn’t failed to feed his equally caustic wife, Rita during his entire lifetime.” Mrs. Tony was in a belligerent mood tonight.

“And look at you. No capacity to get some cheese in the pipe but can’t control the carnal urges! Who the hell will feed these 21 twintuplets?”

As if on cue, all the twintuplets started singing a high pitched song of hunger. “Squee…squee”, they cried out in unison.

Unable to bear it any longer, Tony pressed his ears with his forelimbs, then held his head while closing his eyes tightly.

“Yes, I knew that. You will now feign depression. Don’t you know, the great Woman says that there is no such thing as depression. Mental health issues are all hocus-pocus. Everyone wants to run their own shop and so do you.

“Here, take this bamboo strip and discipline your hyperactive brood. While I go out and do what is needed to feed them”. Mrs. Tony was quite egoistic about her ability to subdue her hubby and provide for the family.

Tony watched her retreating form and heaved a sign of relief. Once she was out of sight, he jiggled his tiny bottom and stretched out beside his brood of twintuplets.

Soon, he was assured of something to eat.

Fiction

Coming soon…a Thriller anthology you will love

#Project3 #TitleReveal #BookCoverReveal

Hi all, 

I am a contributing writer in this exciting venture by The Hive.

The Hive is a non-traditional publishing collective. The first anthology was Route 13: Highway to Hell, a horror anthology. 

The anthology experienced tremendous success. More than 200 copies were consumed by eager readers. It might seem like a small number, but it’s not. In the world of self-publishing, these are great numbers, especially for a brand new entity like The Hive. Route 13 topped the horror charts on Amazon new releases for a whopping 6 weeks in a row and remained in top 3 for more than 12.   

Now, The Hive launched #Project3. They invited submissions and nearly 50 entries were received.

All the entries were subjected to a stringent two-round selection process and SEVENTEEN stories were selected to be part of #Project3. I am elated that my story is a part of this exciting anthology.

#Project3 is ‘An Anthology to Thrill,’ and the seventeen stories are going to do exactly that – thrill you, the readers. It has stories about scorned lovers, devious criminals, supercops, sleuths, violence, blood, danger, suspense and, murder. You are going to enjoy this. 

Delighted and proud to present to you the title, cover and release date of #Project3. 

                        BLOOD RUNS COLD 

                    Book Release: 17/07/2020

Why July 17th? Well, it is a very significant day for crime and mystery. 

1. The Romanov family were murdered

2. Erle Stanley Gardner, author of Perry Mason, was born on that day

3. The 100-year war ended with the battle of Castille

4. July 17th is the Day of International Criminal Justice. 

I hope ‘Blood Runs Cold’ gets the same support and love which ‘Route 13: Highway to Hell.’ enjoyed. 

Enjoy!

Yatindra Tawde